By Chukwudi OHIRI
When the bill for the month of April/May, 2012 came, Mrs. Helen Udeh, a tenant at Ago Area of Okota was billed about N958.61 which she gladly and willingly paid. With the public announcement that effective from June 2012, the PHCN tariff would slightly be increased by about 38% at most in some areas while others in the rural or specially designated areas will even begin to pay less, she waited for that. True to these words, the bill for the month of May/June, 2012 came and Mrs. Udeh was billed N1, 608.01–almost a hundred percent increment. Again, Mrs. Udeh went and paid the sum of N1,700.00 instead, not minding the percentage increase. When the June/July bill came, it was about N7,048.26. This time, the increment is over 300% and Mrs. Udeh has been crying blue murder. According to Mrs Udeh, PHCN staffers came to her residence shortly after she had paid the N1, 700.00 and cut off the light of the entire members of the yard because some other tenants had not paid their bills. This took well over two weeks before it was restored and the yard was in total blackout all through the period. She was badly affected by this exercise and yet, when the next bill came, it was as exorbitant as never before.
Mrs. Udeh is just one of the numerous consumers who lamented the ‘crazy bill’ galore that fraught the recent PHCN billing system. All over Lagos and some of the neighbouring states, this type of complain rent the air and investigation by this magazine revealed that PHCN offices across the state were inundated with several of such complaints.
Following these plethora of complaints and in line with the federal government’s proposed 18 month deadline for 100% metering scheme, succour may at last be on the way of numerous consumers in the Lagos zone as the authorities at the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN), Ikeja Electricity Distribution Company (DISCO) have declared that it would, as a matter of urgency, do everything possible within its power to meet up with the 18-month deadline which the federal government set to achieve 100 per cent metering of electricity consumers in the country in order to end the era of crazy bill charged, especially to the unmetered customers.
The Chief Executive Officer of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN), Ikeja Electricity Distribution Company DISCO, Engr. Chris Akamnonu, disclosed this at a press conference held in Lagos recently where he said: “We will meet up the 18 months deadline for 100% metering of all our customers set by Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC)”. Akamnonu assured that the zone, which has been connecting 6,000 units of prepaid meters for customers on monthly basis before now has concluded plans to raise the current number to 9,000 units per months by August. In his own words, the CEO said: “we in Ikeja are determined to meet 18-month deadline. Currently we are connecting 6,000 units of prepaid meters to our customers and from August we are stepping up to 9,000 as a way of meeting the deadline”. He further stated that with a record 2,500 customer growth rate witnessed by the zone as a result of the government’s renewed effort to ensure that consumers are not cheated during this New Electricity tariff regime, the zone is adequately “budgeting towards ensuring that this new customers and the average customers of 610, 000 based on metering units, will be adequately metered free of charge”.
Engr. Chris Akamnonu however debunked earlier media reports which held that the increment in the June bill was outrageous and arbitrary saying: “we have seen reports in a national daily of an outrageous billing of 300 % increase as a result of the new tariff. I immediately summoned the management staff at the weekend when I saw this report and at the end, we did not see anything like that… After a thorough study of the new tariff especially the June bill compared to the previous billing, the highest increase we had was 38% increase. In some cases, we actually had decrease in the billing.” He cautioned the media to desist from hypes and sensational reporting which might jeopardize the proposed gains accruable to the new tariff regime of the government aimed at attracting investors to the power sector. “The intention of government is genuine on this new tariff. It is to sustain power generation, transmission and supply and of course to encourage investment in the country’s power sector,” Akamnonu explained. But Nigerian OrientNerws on its facts finding mission laid hands on the previous and current bill of Mrs. Ude whose story was narrated earlier as a proof that there was indeed, an arbitrary and outrageous billing.
Meanwhile, the Chairman, Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission, Mr. Sam Amadi, has said that electricity consumers can petition the agency against arbitrary billing by electricity distribution companies. On his part, Engr. Chris Akamnonu, while fielding questions from correspondents said, “We are trying to stop arbitrary billings. We want to ensure that anyone that will be given estimated bills won’t just get any amount”. In the light of this he said, “we are employing a scientific and objective methodology, which will allocate bills based on supply to feeders. Customers will not have to pay for electricity not consumed any longer.”
As the 100% metering of electricity consumers gathers momentum, there are high hopes that the billing system will become transparently moderate and normal even as service delivery will continue to improve.